Throwback Thursday: My Principles of Training

There are a million and one things you can do in the gym and on the mat, and quite frankly, a whole lot of them work. So how are you supposed to decide which combinations of things will best prepare your body and mind to do battle on the mat? For starters, your program should be rooted in the following principles that have been developed over my 20+ years of training and competing, not just myself, but literally hundreds of others. I’ll break them all down for you below, and you can check out if your program fits the bill and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Assessment

Where are you? Everything can be an assessment, from how much can you squat to can you even squat properly? Starting out on any program requires an honest look at your starting point. Do you have the requisite mobility to perform a given exercise? Do you have the necessary control of your body in a given position? Do you have a previous injury that inhibits your ability to do certain things? What’s your resting heart rate? Everything needs to be taken into consideration so you put yourself in the right starting position so as to not only be injury free, but also to make sure that you are actually doing something conducive to getting better in the avenue you want. Assessments are constant, and every rep of every exercise is an assessment of your response to the varying demands being placed on the body, and the program is progressed, regressed, or kept consistent depending on the findings.
  • Movement Quality

This is directly related to assessments in that you need to be able to move well and without pain first and foremost. As a quick example, if performing a bodyweight squat makes your knees cave in and your back fold up like an accordion, then what makes you think loading up a barbell and throwing it on your back to squat will be a good idea?This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do, it means that there are other options to use while improving that movement pattern. Achieving optimal movement is paramount before loading a particular movement. Maybe there’s a soft tissue issue that you need addressed, maybe you have a previous injury that you are compensating around, maybe you just lack motor control-either way, it needs to be addressed accordingly before adding load to a dysfunctional movement.
  • Overload

Simply put, you have to do more than you did before. Whether that’s more weight, more reps, a harder version of an exercise, more work done in a given amount of time, or whatever, but if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got. Over time, you need to do more in order to get stronger, get leaner, and build muscle. Remember, what you do in training provides the stimulus for the body to make the adaptations we want, so we need to have a plan of attack of how we are going to give progressively more stimuli to get the results we’re after. There are lots of ways to do this depending on your situation, but the concept is the same regardless.
  • Perfect Technique

This should go without saying, but you don’t let reps get ugly in your training. That’s how people get hurt, and no one gets better when they’re banged up and on the sidelines. You should never get hurt in the gym. Technical failure is the furthest you take a set, period, meaning the last rep of every set looks exactly like the first.
You don't want people looking at you like this when you're training.

You don’t want people looking at you like this when you’re training.

  • Consistency/Accountability

A bad program done regularly is a lot more effective than a great program done occasionally. Schedule your training sessions as you would any other commitment that’s important to you. At the end of the day, you know if you skipped out, so don’t let yourself down. Failure to plan is planning to fail, so hold yourself to a higher standard than most and don’t consider your training to be something that you do sometimes, it’s a regular part of your life. Being a wrestler consists of doing what others won’t, and that might mean getting up early to train before school, hitting a Saturday session when everyone else is still in bed, or packing your own lunch so you don’t eat the slop your school offers in the cafeteria, but in the end, you’ll be better for it

  • Balance

Most people you see in the gym “train” only what they can see in the mirror or what they like. Balance means making sure no quality falls below a baseline level, regardless of the particular goal you’re chasing in a phase and you have to make sure to even out your development. This will not only help out for aesthetic reasons, but also to help avoid overuse injuries and improve performance. If you’re going to do 5 sets of benching, then you better do 5 sets of some kind of rowing to keep your shoulders healthy and give you a big platform to press from. If you want to go through a phase where you’re focusing on pure strength and hitting lots of heavy doubles and singles, then you better balance out your program with some prehab stuff  to keep your joints healthy. If you push, pull an equal amount, and be sure to do both hip and knee dominant lower body work.

  • Progression/Regression

You can’t run before you walk, and you can’t be afraid to back an exercise up a notch in order to make it a little easier if you aren’t ready for it yet. Conversely, if something is too easy, then it needs to be progressed in order to improve. A simple example would be a pushup. If you can’t perform a pushup properly, then maybe you have to elevate your hands on a bench to make it a little easier, or if you can bang out a shitload of pushups on the floor, you need to elevate your feet to make them harder.

  • Specificity

There are going to be a lot more similarities between good training programs than differences, regardless of the population, but when it comes down to the details, you have to tweak them to specifically meet your needs. A hockey player isn’t going to have the same conditioning requirements of a discus thrower, so things like that need to be taken into consideration. Some sports have a higher prevalence of certain overuse injuries, so maybe extra mobility drills are necessary for that population. If you’re looking to lose fat, your nutritional requirements will be different than the off season football player looking to add mass. Long story short, a one size fits all approach across all populations isn’t going to cut it, but each person’s programs should be based on the same principles.

This isn't specific to anything except dumb.

This isn’t specific to anything except dumb.

  • Variety

Doing the same exercises all the time, even when making gains, can lead to overuse injuries and get boring, so things need to be routinely, yet strategically switched up. This doesn’t mean hopping from one program to another (that’s a quick way to not make progress at all) but rather a subtle switch from maybe incline pressing to incline pushups, or altering the loads, sets, and reps. It might mean taking a few weeks away from the heavy squatting and focusing instead on some circuit based strength training, but the point is, it’s to be used to recharge you mentally, keep you physically healthy, and keep you making progress.

  • Evaluation

Is the shit you’re doing even working? Honestly, have you gotten stronger, leaner, faster, insert whatever goal you’re working to improve? If yes, then what is it that has changed to cause this progress? If not, what have you done differently that has stalled progress? If you don’t constantly evaluate, then how do you know whether you’re spinning your wheels or what is working for you? Have patience, have a solid plan based on these principles, believe in the process, and don’t cheat yourself. Then, and only then, can you honestly evaluate to see what the next step is for you.

Perform an audit of what you’re currently doing in the gym and find out if what you’re doing aligns with the principles that are broken down here. Maybe some is, and if so, great, adjust the rest so that it does as well. The bottom line is, don’t throw shit against the wall and see what sticks-have a long term plan of attack that sets you up for success, and these rules will provide the framework for just that.

Until next time, keep training with purpose!


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